Eat + Drink » On the Table

Eat food.



It's Tuesday morning, deadline day. My wife Amy just left for work; before she took off she saw me staring out the window and asked what I was thinking about. I admitted I was not sure what to write about for this week's food column.

There was the Art of Wine tasting we went to last weekend at Gabriel's, where we sampled the new releases from Moonstone Crossing- a truly fine array of fruity reds, by the way but I really want to see David and Sharon's operation in Moonstone Heights before I tackle that subject. "No, don't write about that," said Amy. I'll save it for later, but I should mention that David and Sharon are hosting a "special tasting" and pouring more of those new releases at Libation this coming Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 5-7 p.m.

Amy didn't like my next idea either, an examination of something I read Sunday about the American diet. She worries that people know too much about her personal eating habits, which I might throw in. "Don't write about that either," she urged me.

Of course there's plenty of assorted news in the local restaurant business to touch on. I've heard they've opened Three Foods Café, the new place behind the Arcata Co-op, next door to Rita's Mexican Grocery, but I haven't had time to eat there yet, and I'm not even sure what the "three foods" are. The sign on the door says they're open 5-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, with a reservation number: 822-WISH.

I've also heard what's going into the space on 9th St. that Amiga's Burritos held down oh-so-briefly: It's called Sushi Spot, and yes, sushi will be on the menu. Before you question the wisdom of opening a sushi place less than a block away from Tomo, one of the most successful Japanese restaurants around, I must tell you who's opening it: Fukiko Marshall, the owner of Tomo. If you've ever tried to get a reservation at her place on a weekend night, you'll understand how she might want to have a place for the overflow. The plans for the future of the business are actually more complicated than that, but they'll have to wait for another day. Look for the Spot to open some time in March if all goes according to plan. Does it ever?

Sometimes it does. Construction on Café Brio is near completion. Owner Serge Scherbatskoy tells me the Alchemy team has successfully passed all the major inspections and permitting hurdles and, "We're looking to start training people in March and hope to open some time that month." Skilled baristas, bakers and kitchen workers looking for a cool place to work should file an application.

I hung around Muddy's Hot Cup until closing Saturday night, when The Country Pretenders played, and ended up walking from Northtown to the Jambalaya to see The Rubberneckers with Muddy's owner Cory Stevens. He's on the verge of ramping up his lunch menu, which already includes panini, ziti, other quick take-out or eat-there items. I'll have more on the changes later. BTW, I had one of their "Night Train" mocha shakes that night. Yum. (And the caffeine blast helped with the night on the town.)

I'd arrived at the Hot Cup early, since I knew Fred and Joyce and company would pack the place (they did). Before I sat down I grabbed the front page for Saturday's New York Times. I did not actually get to read anything but a tiny teaser for an essay that ran Sunday in the NYT Magazine, a 10,000 word think piece by Michael Pollan, arguably the most important food writer du jour, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, a book I have referenced in this space more than once. When I got up Sunday morning, I broke off part of an apple fritter I'd bought the night before at Don's Donut's (knowing full well it wasn't the right thing for me to eat) and I found the article online (probably should have walked up to Wildberries and bought the Sunday Times, but I didn't).

The title, "Unhappy Meals," gives a hint at his take on the state of the American diet. The subhead, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," encapsulates his ultimate advice. "That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy," he begins, adding soon after, "A little meat won't kill you, though it's better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you're much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That's what I mean by the recommendation to eat `food.' Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: If you're concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it's not really food, and food is what you want to eat."

Now, this might sound overly simplistic. As someone put it, "Isn't that what we learned in 3rd grade? Eat your vegetables." Needless to say, though, Pollan has lots more to say in 10,000 words; he offers some history on diet fads, government guidelines and the politics involved, conflicting studies on the effects of this food and that, and the general "shift from eating food to eating nutrients," as he puts it. Suffice to say, there's a lot of food for thought.

I was about halfway through when I received an e-mail from Joseph Byrd, the dedicated foodie who shares this space on occasion. He'd sent me a link to a NYT travel piece about dining in Mexico City: "In Mexico City, Regional Flavors Unchanged by the Big City," something along the lines of the first part of his own two-parter on authentic Mexican food. In return I sent him a link to Pollan's piece. This morning I received a note from Joseph with a subject line quoting the subhead: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

"It's an article of great wisdom," he notes. "I kept fearing he was going someplace weird, but his final suggestions are almost exactly what Beni and I do. (Not that I am a model for dietary wisdom.) Anyway, he does recognize that food is culture, which I think is a critical first step.

"When we were in France, we ate salads much more often, and in the years since, I've begun to make about 1/3 to 1/2 of our evening meal salad. The first trick is to make salad attractive enough to look forward to eating it, and that seems to involve finding not just attractive greens and raw vegetables, but to make a delicious dressing that's neither Ranch' norblue cheese' nor any other hi-cal glop. That was solved when we discovered Mt. Shasta Master Blend olive oil, which is as delicious as the oils we had in Europe, and mixes with white balsamic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, to make a savory vinaigrette that never disappoints. The second trick is to vary additives. In a little lunch place in Paris, they added chunks of Medjool date. We also use chunks of pear, avocado, goat cheese, orange, Armenian cucumber, pecans, slivered almonds or preserved fruit like cranberry. And where we used to eat close to a pound of meat, we seem to have drifted down to about 10 ounces for the two of us, with no feeling of being deprived.

"Of course, the key to all this is cooking for yourself ... Anyway, thanks for the excellent article ... everyone ought to read it," Joseph.

Of course I concur. You should read it. If you have a friend who gets the Sunday Times, have them pull the magazine from their recycling pile. Otherwise, if you go online before Sunday you can read it there for free.

Column done. Time for lunch. I think I'll have a salad.

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